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Friday, October 19, 2018

Friday Speak Out!: Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

by Janet Garber

When my close writer friends and I gather together, out come the wine bottles and our stories of family dysfunction.

“My uncle married and divorced five times. Three of those times were to my aunt.”

“Hmmph! My uncle Jack lived with my aunt on the first floor and his mistress on the second. Did I mention that the two women were best friends?”

“. . .and we suspect Joey may have killed Amy’s second husband who was hitting her. But he was cleared. He wound up marrying her and they’re living in Wilton now.”

“My mother used to come after me with a broom. Whack. Whack.”

We delight in unearthing family secrets, repeating these stories to each other, to reassure ourselves that not only did we survive our dysfunctional upbringings but we’re sitting on a powder keg of great material to write about.

“My mother’s always been very competitive with her best friend, Sonia. As a young woman she stole the letters Sonia got from her long distance boyfriend, saying, ‘He’s too good for you.’ Eventually she stole the boyfriend himself and wound up marrying him. As an encore fifty years later, after Sonia had passed on, Mom divorced the first guy, my father, and married Sonia’s widower. How about that?”

“I remember my mother sending me out to the movies all day. If I came back early, she’d drop four cents out the window so I could go back and buy myself a comic book. Who was that guy hanging around with her while Dad was at work?”

“Ever notice how his little sister is the only one in the family with brown eyes?”

Though seniors we’re all still dealing with our past traumas, big and small. We realize how ridiculous we are, complaining of hurts endured as children. It’s enough to make you question whether functional families exist at all.

“Oh, yeah? My Aunt Bea would force feed her three kids – all obese today. You could hear them screaming from blocks away. She claimed she just wanted fat American babies.”

“His father told him that he really did not want children; he had only had children because his wife insisted. ‘But then I wouldn’t be here now, Dad!’ the son protested. “So what?” his dad replied. “Big deal.”

Our talk may bring up painful memories, but we’re here for each other, and quick to point out what great material we’ve been given. And as writers, we try never to waste anything this juicy.

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Janet Garber’s debut comic novel, Dream Job, Wacky Adventures of an HR Manager, was a finalist in the 2017 Next Generation Indie Book Awards and a Runner Up in the 2016 Best Indie Books Award. She invites you to drop in at

Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!


  1. Great post, Janet. Most of my stories come from family dysfunction, so I agree! Your writer's circle sounds like a hoot. Maybe you should curate your stories and create an anthology of family secrets...written in pen names, of course! :) Thanks for the post!

  2. I was wondering if in order to get into your writer's circle, you have to have family dysfunction? Although, I do think we all have it. My aunt married my uncle twice. I had an uncle that was married 5 times too. So...I could join your group!

    Thanks for this post.

  3. Janet--Family puts the fun in dysfunction. ;)
    Thanks for the post. It reminded me of the crazy relatives I have.

  4. Janet,

    I'm starting to wonder if there are any writers out there who DON'T have some sort of dysfunction in their families. I know I certainly do! I get a lot of my ideas for creative non-fiction from family dynamics (both on my side and my husband's) and lately, I mine true crime cases for fiction or historical fiction gold. It's the perfect blend of productive dysfunction!


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